Self audit reports on the running of two private immigration detention centres are to be released by the Home Office next month, after a landmark ruling by the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO).
Reports on Harmondsworth and Colnbrook immigration detention centres
The reports will give detailed information on the operation of two facilities: Harmondsworth immigration detention centre; the UK's largest, and Colnbrook. The documents pertain to the month of May 2014, when the centres were operated by private security contractors Geo Group and Serco; who ran Harmondsworth and Colnbrook respectively until Mitie Care took over both centres in May 2014.
The reports, which are due to be released on July 13, 2015, are to be provided in response to a Freedom of Information request filed by research group Corporate Watch more than 10 months ago. The Home Office has doggedly fought against the request since that time, arguing that releasing the documents would damage the corporate interests of the companies involved. However, the ICO criticised the move, saying "there is a very strong public interest" in the reports being released.
Decision praised by campaign groups
Freedom of information campaigners have praised the decision, saying that it will increase pressure on companies such as Serco and Geo Group to raise their standards. Corporate Watch researcher Phil Miller said the ICO's ruling sends "a strong signal to government to be far more transparent on outsourced contracts. Home Office bureaucrats should not shield private security companies from public scrutiny".
Problems at UK immigration detention centres
Detailing the reason for the decision, the ICO said that the operation of immigration removal centres was 'problematic', and that reports into Harmondsworth and Colnbrook by the Prisons Inspector were 'critical of their operation'.
Conditions at immigration detention centres are a problem, Channel 4 News reported recently that self harm among detainees more than doubled between 2012 and 2014; from 150 to 306. In 2014, 62 of these incidents - a fifth of the total - occurred at Harmondsworth. In May that year, the period covered in the report, over 100 detainees went on hunger stroke at the removal centre.
Government may still appeal
The Home Office may appeal the decision to release the reports, but has not confirmed its intention to do so. A spokesperson said: "We have noted the Information Commissioner's decision and are considering whether or not to appeal."